Mascoutah schools opt for delayed start to solve snow days

News-DemocratFebruary 13, 2014 

In an effort to reduce the number of snow days, Mascoutah School District 19 has implemented a delayed start -- where on some occasions of inclement weather, schools would begin two hours late as opposed to being canceled the entire day.

This decision comes as another round of snow is expected to hit the metro-east Friday with a possible 1-3 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

"Implementing a two-hour delay schedule gives us some flexibility as we try to predict the weather's impact," Superintendent Craig Fiegel said. "At least one of our snow days this year was a candidate for a late start day that would have allowed instruction to occur."

Madison County Regional Superintendent Robert Daiber said no public school districts in Madison County have what's known as delayed start under the Illinois School Code.

However, delayed start will be discussed at a Madison County superintendent's meeting Feb. 19, according to Daiber. "There is some interest," he said.

St. Clair County Regional Superintendent Susan Sarfaty said she doesn't know of any other public school districts in St. Clair County besides Mascoutah School District that has delayed start.

"I would not be surprised to find that districts are talking about it," she said.

Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said a delayed start day can count as a legal school day. According to the Illinois School Code, if a district doesn't provide the minimum of five hours of instruction, it must request approval for a delayed start within 30 days of its occurrence. The request must be approved by the Illinois State Board of Education.

OPTION FOR OTHER SCHOOLS?

Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said delayed start is an "option," but one that may be difficult for an elementary school district to implement as young students can't be left home alone in the morning if parents have to go to work.

"There's no doubt an option like that if it allows you to have students at school is a better option than not having school at all," he said. "It's something we'll definitely look into. We are open to any of those options."

Belleville School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said district officials are "considering" a delayed start.

"We're trying to figure out how we would implement that," he said. "It's definitely something we are considering. It kind of makes sense for me."

District 201 officials are discussing how delayed start announcements would be made, when buses would operate and how it would impact families with elementary students, according to Dosier.

At least one parochial high school in the area -- Father McGivney Catholic High School in Maryville -- opens late in bad weather.

Principal Mike Scholz said the school operates on a one-hour delay when the weather warrants it. As a result, he said the school hasn't used as many snow days as neighboring schools. So far this school year, Father McGivney has used four snow days.

Principal Dennis Litteken said delayed start is not an option for Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese at the present time.

How would it work?

If Mascoutah School District officials determine a delayed start is necessary, Fiegel said parents would receive notifications the same as they do now -- through mass email and all-call parental notifications, TV, radio and school website announcements.

Once the decision is made for late start, all schools would start classes two hours later than normal. Classes at Mascoutah High would begin at 9:35 a.m., at 10 a.m. at Mascoutah Middle School and at 10:15 a.m. at both Mascoutah and Scott elementary schools. All students would be released from school at the usual time, Fiegel said.

All bus routes would travel two hours later when late start is declared. Breakfast would not be served, and there will be no early drop-off of students, according to Fiegel.

"I know a two-hour late start is not ideal for those who have job requirements and childcare to consider, but neither is having a child out of school an entire day under our current approach," he said. " I understand a late start declaration may cause parent adjustments to be made. The school district will work with parents on an individual basis to resolve issues as they occur."

What do parents think?

Since announcing the delayed start option, Fiegel described parent reaction in Mascoutah as "mixed" with some parents pleased with the change and others concerned about childcare issues.

Mascoutah parent Christina Martin said she's in favor of the delayed-start days in the event of inclement weather and believes it's something that could have been implemented sooner.

Parent Jane Gram, who has two children at Mascoutah Elementary, also supports a snow schedule.

"I'd much rather my children attend even a half day of school, rather than miss a full day when it isn't necessary," she said.

However, Belleville West parent Shelly Sisk said she wouldn't be a fan of District 201 implementing a two-hour delayed start.

"If the conditions are dangerous, two hours doesn't make much difference especially when you are talking about high schoolers that have to drive to school," she said. "Just call it off."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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